The Dallas Mavericks lost what was the must-win game of the season so far, a disappointing 127-125 loss to the Golden State Warriors Wednesday night in Dallas.
Luka Doncic led all scorers with 30 points in his first game back from a thigh injury. Jonathan Kuminga led a balanced Warriors effort with 22 points. This loss drops the Mavericks down the standings in the Western Conference, now 1.5 games behind the sixth-placed Warriors. A Mavericks win would have vaulted Dallas ahead of Golden State with nine Mavericks games left this season.
The desperation was definitely felt from the opening tip to the final whistle. Neither team established much of a lead, with lots of up-and-down, back-and-forth play. It followed the script of just about every Mavericks game this season — Doncic generates tons of open looks, the Mavericks defense gives up a layup line, Dallas makes threes to steal a game, the opposing team dominates the boards, the Mavericks have a final possession blunder.
There’s so much that happened, let’s just get into the three main things I took from this game.
The Mavericks’ defense is just embarrassing
Dallas knew this would be a difficult game with no Kyrie Irving, but Doncic’s return guaranteed a hopeful return to normalcy for the Mavericks’ offense. The problem is, despite the injuries, the Mavericks’ offense hasn’t been a problem for the last month. It’s the defense. And it was awful again against the Warriors.
The Warriors are a particularly cruel matchup for this depleted Mavericks defense, with their movement and off-ball cutting exposing so much of the Mavericks’ weaknesses as a team defense and focusing on the little things. Golden State ran a layup line all night, shooting a staggering 27-of-32 at the rim. That translated to 66 points in the paint, a number so high it almost doesn’t matter what you do on the other end of the floor, you’re likely going to lose.
While rebounding isn’t necessarily a defensive thing, it is connected. The Mavericks are just a small team that gets consistently bullied in the paint. The Warriors had 11 offensive rebounds, leading to ample second-chance opportunities. Dallas played three big men in this game — Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, and Christian Wood. Those three combined for 11 rebounds. Kevon Looney for the Warriors had 12 by himself.
Dallas basically plays every game with one armed tied behind its back. Despite Doncic’s brilliance and the Mavericks’ continued hot streak from behind the arc (17-of-40, 42.5 percent), the Mavericks just can’t win games with a defense so porous. It’s a shame, because Reggie Bullock played perhaps his best defensive game in months, hounding Steph Curry and limiting him to “just” 20 points on 18 shots and only two made three-pointers. The problem was Curry was able to pass freely out of Bullock’s defense and the Dallas backline had no answer. The Warriors had 33 assists on their 50 made field goals. Most of their offensive possessions were one or two passes and then a layup.
It’s hard to say what should change, because the Mavericks are just a bad defensive team with bad defensive players. There are nine games left — nothing is changing. Just have to hope the Mavericks can outshoot teams.
Jaden Hardy did his best Kyrie Irving impression
There are a lot of storylines coming out of this game and we’ll get to what will end up being the big one in the next section. This is all unfortunate because Mavericks rookie Jaden Hardy had one of the better rookie games I’ve seen all season.
Hardy, stepping in for the injured Irving, scored 27 points on 18 shots, going 6-of-9 from three. It wasn’t his career high (he scored 29 in a game against Utah earlier in the season), but considering the stakes, the opponent and how efficient Hardy was, I’m calling this the best game of his young NBA career.
The best part about Hardy’s game is that he let everything come to him. Rookies can find themselves in a place where they feel they have to force it, especially rookies on playoff teams that don’t have their minutes guaranteed. You get into the game, you know you’re potentially only on the floor for a short time, so you have to make those minutes count. So then you press, which only makes your minutes shrink. It happens to almost every rookie that isn’t drafted to a lottery team.
Hardy certainly had those moments earlier in the season, but he’s so much calmer and more collected now. He didn’t spam out at the basket, although he did have some unfortunate misses near the rim late. Instead he mostly just played well off of Doncic, draining spot-up threes and attacking the open space that Doncic can generate with double-teams. This game could have gotten ugly in a hurry if it wasn’t for Hardy. What a performance.
Referees didn’t decide this game
Now it’s time to talk about the only thing that will get talked about with this game: the bizarre inbounds play with a few minutes left in the third quarter where the Mavericks thought they were inbounding the ball, the Warriors inbounded it instead and Looney got a free layup with all five Mavericks standing on the other end of the floor.
It’s very weird. Watch it here:
What is going on.— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) March 23, 2023
What happened was a lose ball on that end of the floor that was originally called Dallas ball. But with a timeout called and both teams heading to their bench, the referee changed the call and signaled Warriors ball.
The problem is that he signaled it after the Mavericks had walked back to the bench and as the game was going into a commercial break. Apparently coming out of that break, the officiating crew didn’t alert the Mavericks to the changed call and the Warriors get a free bucket. Although I have to ask: if the Mavericks thought it was their ball, why wasn’t anyone in the backcourt to inbound it? Dallas called a timeout with two minutes left in the third quarter. A timeout doesn’t advance the ball except for the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. Did the Mavericks...think it was the fourth quarter? Why wasn’t someone down at the baseline to inbound the ball? Even if it was a referee error, obviously the Mavericks sideline wasn’t entirely aware of the situation.
All that said It sucked, there’s no doubt about it. A referee blunder in a tightly contested game with lots of stakes can zap the energy out of you as a fan watching at home, and certainly to the competitors involved directly. We all want sports to be fair, that the game is decided between two teams. When something like this happens, it can feel like a game is stolen.
So yes, if you want to rant and rave about how the referees cost the Mavericks a crucial game that could decide their postseason fate, have at it. Fans should be fans. That’s fine. But me, personally? No thanks. If you want to talk about the referees giving the Warriors two free points, what about 27 free baskets the Mavericks gave up at the rim tonight, with one of the worst defensive showings I’ve seen from a team all season? There are dozens and dozens of possessions in an NBA game, and all of them add up and matter. Yes, even the referee error possession adds in. But other plays do too, and those are ones the Mavericks had within their control. Dallas shot 28 free throws, 10 more than Golden State. Doncic had 10 free throws himself. And Doncic has the audacity to insinuate the referees were bought off tonight? That’s a loser mentality, I’m sorry. That play happened 14 minutes before the final buzzer, when the Mavericks had ample opportunities to close the game out. Including the final possession, down three, where Doncic missed a layup under the basket and coach Jason Kidd just watched instead of calling a timeout.
And if we really want to talk about referees deciding games, what about this play?
????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? pic.twitter.com/87jUnB8v7J— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) March 23, 2023
Josh Green runs through Anthony Lamb, the referees decide not to call a foul and the Mavericks end up making a three pointer on the ensuing scramble. Did the referees give Dallas three free points? This tit for tat nature can go on every play, so instead of exhausting that conversation in what was clearly a poorly officiated game on both sides, I’d rather focus on the basketball plays.
Dallas has no one to blame but itself for the position it is in this season. Now the organization will try to shift the narrative that a game was stolen from them. The Mavericks have nine more games left to make this one a distant memory. The season isn’t over. Do something about it.
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